by Bridget May
Product Executive, Contract Services
07/16/20

Near the height of COVID-19’s initial surge, scenes of overflowing ICUs and exhausted nurses and doctors flooded media outlets. Responding to the unprecedented spike in demand for personal protective equipment and other essentials, suppliers worked overtime to meet the needs of member hospitals and their front-line workers to help ensure they were safe from the virus as they cared for patients. The dedication to solving problems and the supplies delivered have truly saved lives.

The media also covered stories of how these same caregivers, once their long shifts were over, struggled to secure adequate food for themselves and their families during the shutdown. It was at this point when PRO*ACT, a network of more than 50 independent fresh food distributors, mobilized to provide nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables to employees at some of the hardest hit Vizient member hospitals.

Feeding Our Frontlines is a $1 million initiative created by partners within the PRO*ACT organization to support various health care facilities with donated boxes that consist of fresh produce given to employees to enjoy with their families at no charge. Each box is filled with nutritious fruits and vegetables. Distributor partners repack fresh produce into take-home boxes and deliver them to recipient hospitals so that workers can pick them up immediately following their shifts. The roughly 12- to 15-pound box can feed a family of four for up to a week.

Approximately 400-500 boxes per location were distributed at each event. Approximately 35 health care facilities have participated in the program that launched in late April with a delivery at a Vizient healthcare member in New York City. The PRO*ACT team returned to that location the following week with another delivery while expanding the program at other Vizient member locations. To date, over 125,000 lbs. (or over 9,000 boxes) of produce have been donated to cities with hospital delivery locations including Baltimore, Los Angeles, Boston, Atlanta, New Orleans, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Detroit as well as other Michigan locations and Portland, Oregon.

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged food suppliers in ways both great and small. Vizient recently joined leaders from the food industry in a three-part PRO*ACT podcast series called “Food Service in Crisis” to discuss the pandemic, different strategies that were put in place to meet member demand and lessons learned for a more resilient supply chain.

While there is much yet to do before this pandemic will pass, it’s been amazing to see how people across all aspects of the health care supply chain continue to come together. The resourcefulness is what stands out to me — the human spirit is so evident across these businesses.

Folks are taking and making calls they didn't before so that they can provide members what they need today. Feeding the Frontlines is a great example of this. The distributors in the PRO*ACT network re-allocated staff and distribution to serve front-line workers and their families as they served their patients. That's where the difference is being made.

To listen to the podcast or to download a copy, visit colorfulplates.org or click here.

About the author. Bridget May coordinates member activities and communications, supplier communications and value-added programs for the Vizient Food Program. With 40 years of health care food service industry experience, she joined the company in 1998 and has held various roles in the food program including contracting and member services. Prior to joining Vizient, she held various roles in health care food service management as well clinical care. May, a registered dietitian nutritionist, is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.